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The New and Evolving Legal Department Operations Role

The New and Evolving Legal Department Operations Role

Corporate legal operations manager or director is one of the most important new legal roles emerging in corporate legal departments. From the emergence of e-billingin the early 2000′s, to the explosion of eDiscovery around 2005-2006, to the expansion of financial and accounting practices and controls following the 2008 economic collapse, law department operations, or LDO, has played a pivotal role in shepherding legal departments forward in meeting new demands.

With a decade of experience in the LDO trenches, and now as an advisor to corporate legal departments, I’m fortunate to have gained perspective of how legal visionaries at top legal departments are driving new paths for their profession.  These industry leaders refuse to settle for management roles overseeing traditional LDO responsibilities and instead have grown the position into new and challenging areas.

Traditional LDO Roles

LDO professionals have traditionally been viewed as the business managers for the legal department, owning the tactical and operational aspects surrounding the business of law – or commonly referred to as everything except the practice of law. Common responsibilities in this role include:

  • Manage administrative functions
  • Matter management
  • Matter budgeting
  • AFA implementer
  • Billing guidelines
  • Annual rate negotiation process
  • Accounting & Finance
  • System administrator
  • Invoice processing and billing
  • Report generator
  • Project manager
  • Annual vendor performance surveys

These roles have not gone away or diminished in importance! As experienced LDOs refine and establish processes and technologies supporting these functions, however, they are able to expand activities, grow influence, and focus on new areas.

Evolving LDO Roles 

While the above roles do not go away, they have been expanded. Visionary LDO managers understand they often have business skills that are unique and valuable in the legal department. Key among these skills is the ability to mine enormous amounts of data and use it to make business decisions. By applying analytics and knowledge of legal best practices, LDO leaders have transformed many of the traditional roles into those providing greater strategic value to the department.

The New and Evolving Legal Department Operations Role-graphic

New LDO Roles

As demands in the legal industry have changed, such as those surrounding eDiscovery and financial controls, the influence and requirements from LDO leaders has also evolved. In addition to the responsibilities described above, legal operations now also encompasses more strategic areas, including:

  • Defining objectives, levers, KPIs, and measuring for success
  • Opportunity spotting and ROI measurements
  • Information Governance and Compliance management
  • Facilitating globalization efforts

Additionally, as more attorneys move into LDO positions, responsibilities that fall into the gray area between business management and practicing law are being pushed into legal operations. Examples of these functions include:

  • Managing the eDiscovery function
  • Managing Records Management
  • Facilitating IP maintenance

Just as visionary LDO professionals have driven these changes over the past several years, the industry will continue to challenge the traditional way of doing business, and legal operations will be there to make it reality.

Photo credit:  Flickr; (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About Mike Haysley

Mike Haysley
As Director of Strategic Consulting at LexisNexis CounselLink, Mike helps corporate legal departments manage the business of law. His experience includes over 15 years in roles as the Director of Legal Operations for a large company, consulting to large legal organizations with premier consultancies, and serving legal departments with matter and spend management software providers. This background provides a unique perspective of having personally addressed and managed many of the issues facing legal departments today, while also understanding best practices and varying needs of legal departments. Mike graduated from Texas A&M University with a business degree, received his law degree from the University of Houston, and is licensed to practice law in Texas.